BattleKasters at PAX Prime 2015
We were contacted shortly before PAX Prime by people involved with a mobile game called “BattleKasters,” asking if we’d be interested in a sponsorship with them. They asked that we talk about the game on the podcast, tweet about it a few times, and make some videos about the game at PAX Prime.
We jumped at it, partly because it was exciting to be offered a new opportunity and partly because we like money. We had some conditions, though. We were going to be transparent with our audience about the fact that we were getting paid to talk about the game (which we’re pretty sure is required legally anyway), and we were going to be very honest about our gameplay experience. If the game sucked, we were going to let you know.
Fortunately, “BattleKasters” was cool with both of those things, and Can’t Talk went about the business of getting paid for our work for the very first time.
This “BattleKasters” post isn’t sponsored. I wanted to wrap up my experience with the game in a concrete way instead of just saying, “Well, we fulfilled the conditions of the contract. Good work, everybody!” I wanted to explain the game and tell you how I felt about it when all was said and done.
“BattleKasters” is a real world overlay game, kind of like “Ingress.” Unlike “Ingress,” “BattleKasters” doesn’t overlay the entire planet. It’s a con-exclusive event that only takes place at select cons during the year.
The game is based on the “Legends of Orkney” series of books by Alane Adams, and she was at PAX Prime promoting the first book in the series, “The Red Sun.” (She was very nice, by the way.) In the game, you discover that various portals have opened up throughout the convention, and you have to close them to keep Very Bad Things from pouring into our world. You do this by traveling to the portal location (which is marked on a map) and entering a portal.
We had some challenges even getting started. Mel’s phone wouldn’t display the game correctly; it would only show her the map from the event “BattleKasters” had attended prior to PAX. Our friend Marc from Press2Reset couldn’t get the game to load at all. Whenever he tried, he got stuck on a black screen with a “loading” symbol. I was luckier. My phone would display the game properly, so my phone was the one we used.
Finding the portal locations was a little tricky for us at first. My phone would buzz, and the portals would light up if we were where we needed to be to close them, but finding them was a bit difficult. I think this was mostly because I have a terrible sense of direction. While the map shows you the portal locations, it doesn’t show you where you are in relation to anything. This mean that we spent a lot of time wandering around, trying to figure out where we were so we knew where to go. (We did discover a couple of secret passages that helped us get around the convention center faster, though.)
The other issue I ran into was that there’s really no tutorial about how to play the game. I’d closed four portals before I figured out exactly what I was supposed to do to close them, and I think I was making my 12th video before I figured out how to use spells. “BattleKasters” is a very simple game, but I think that simplicity was part of the problem. I felt like I should be taking more steps than I was.
I had friends make similar complaints; they’d started the game and then quit because they didn’t feel like they’d gotten enough direction. However, we interviewed someone during PAX Prime who was playing for the first time and had completed the entire adventure in less than an hour. She said she “wasn’t much of a gamer” but had found the game very easy and very intuitive. It’s very possible that the confusion I faced was based on my expectations. I expected a more complicated experience and was thrown off by the fact that “BattleKasters” was actually pretty straightforward.
I was frustrated by how long it took me to figure “BattleKasters” out, and I honestly would not have recommended the game for the first half of my experience with it. When I got more comfortable with it, though, I started to have a lot of fun—and that surprised the hell out of me, because I had been so annoyed with it.
The cool thing about the game is that you can play the entire thing in less than an hour. There aren’t very many portals to close, and they’re all in close proximity to each other. Every time you close a portal, you also learn spells and collect cards, which you can use to interact with other players in the most introvert-friendly manner possible. The spells a player casts impacts other players in the area, but no one ever needs to know who those players are.
For instance, I was walking through the fourth floor when my phone buzzed, letting me know I was near a portal. I looked at my phone and saw the portal lit up on my map. Then, suddenly, the portal went dark.
Someone else had closed it, and I had to wait for it to recharge. The recharge time is pretty short, only about three minutes, so I was content to sit it out. When it lit up again, I made sure to close it quickly so that no one else stole it out from under me—but when I closed it, my phone informed me that another player had cast a spell that stole some of my cards. If only I’d cast a protect spell to keep that from happening! (This is also the story of how I learned to use spells, for the record.)
This was the point where I started to really engage with the game. I wanted to see how my spells impacted other players. I wanted to see how much of their stuff I could steal and how my other spells affected my experience. I started to look forward to the buzzing from my phone that meant I was near a portal that was ripe for closing.
“BattleKasters” is a pretty damn fun game. It doesn’t require an enormous amount of attention or commitment; if you want to focus primarily on the game you certainly can, but you don’t have to. You can play it whenever it’s convenient for you. You can also play it over and over again, improving your experience every time.
Can’t Talk content creator Melissa contributed to this piece.